As the only member of the men’s track and field team who hails from a different continent, Emunael Mpanduki has had to deal with adjusting to the rigors of Division I athletics as well as adapting to American culture at the same time, a tall task to ask of anyone.
However, the Harare, Zimbabwe native appears to have taken it in stride.
“The only thing that I have trouble with is the weather,” Mpanduki said. “Zimbabwe is 75 and sunny pretty much all year round. Obviously, there are always some cultural things that are a little bit off, but I think I’ve adjusted pretty well.”
Off the track, Emanuel has come to like some of the things American culture has to offer. He enjoys the steaks at Texas Roadhouse and often listens to Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae. Like anyone else away from home though, he does sometimes feel homesick; although his method of relieving those feelings may seem a little different.
“There’s time when I haven’t spoken a word in my home language in weeks and I just start randomly singing and people are like ‘what’s this guy doing?’ ” Mpanduki said.
Mpanduki, who set a personal best by running the 400-meter dash in 47.42 at the SPIRE Invitational this past weekend, first visited the U.S. in 2007 for the highly regarded Penn Relays, and again made the trek to the event in his senior year, 2009.
That time around, he captured the attention of Penn State coaches and was invited for a visit. The interest was mutual and Mpanduki quickly committed.
Since coming to Penn State, Mpanduki has been afforded little opportunity to reconnect with his family and friends from back home over holiday breaks or long weekends. In fact, Mpanduki hasn’t been home in nearly two years.
“Last time I was home was not this past summer, but the summer before,” Mpanduki said. “Mainly because I wanted to stay at school and train through some of the breaks and summer, we’re still in season in the summer and I wanted to take some summer classes.”
Due to travel expenses, that summer (2011) was the last time Mpanduki had physically seen his parents. Fortunately for the senior, their reunion is just around the corner.
“Last time I was home was the last time I saw them,” Mpanduki said. “But they will be here this May, because I’m graduating in May. They’ll be here for that and they’ll hopefully catch the Big Ten and the national championships. But other than that Skype and phone calls is how I see my parents.”
This isn’t to say that Mpanduki doesn’t have any contacts currently living in the U.S. as his brother, Edrie Mpanduki, has lived in Indianapolis for the past six years. While there’s a sizeable distance between Pennsylvania and Indianapolis (about an eight-hour drive), Edrie has managed to make it to five of his brother’s meets over the past two seasons. Emunael considers him to be the biggest supporter of his track and field career at Penn State.
“It’s good to have family close by, someone you connect with who understands exactly what you’re going through when things aren’t going so well and who’s always on your side,” Emunael said.
Prior to his move to Indianapolis, Edrie attended Michigan. One might think that having spent so long in the country his brother would be moving to would prompt him to heap advice upon his younger brother, but Edrie said that wasn’t the case.
“As much as I’d like to take credit, [Emunael] is self-motivated,” Edrie said. “I actually get encouraged by seeing his work ethic.”
As Emunael’s four-year journey draws to a close, his brother eagerly awaits his graduation day, saying that he wouldn’t miss it for the world. That appears to be the case for the whole Mpanduki family as well, as Edrie said the whole family will be there. As it pertains to what the day will feel like for the family, he offered a very simple explanation.
“It’s going to be a big party in State College,” Edrie said.